No one — definitely not this baseball know-better (notice I did not say know-it-all) — said the following: “Start planning that Astros championship parade!”
No one said the Houston Astros would take out their lumber and bash the Washington Nationals into submission, winning the World Series without a stiff challenge. No one said the Nats would walk up to the plate against Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, shivering in their cleats, and walk back to the dugout, shaking their heads after so many strike threes.
Yes, most “experts” predicted the Astros would prevail over the Nationals, in either five, six or seven games. A few even picked Washington to pull off what many said could never happen.
News flash No. 1: The Houston Astros are human. News flash No. 2: The Washington Nationals are human, too. But they’re playing baseball on some other level, from some other time, some other place. A place where no one cares what you did in the regular season, how many games you’ve won, how much star power you’ve got on your roster or whether you’re the hands-down favorite to win it all.
The Nationals have now won eight straight playoff games. Going back to the end of the regular season, they’ve won 18 of their past 20. Not to get all Halloween, but that’s a run of monstrous proportions. And at this time of year, getting hot, coming together as a team and getting all the breaks means winning championships.
So far, that’s what we’re seeing from the Nationals. So far.
That doesn’t mean the Astros’ season is shot. They’re not out of this. If they don’t win tonight’s Game 3, the odds, and history, pretty much say there’s no coming back.
And if that happens, they’ll have an offseason to wonder if their inability to win the World Series was due to their own failures — an almost total lack of clutch hitting, baserunning blunders, untimely fielding mistakes — or whether they met their doom in a team that, since May, has matched the Astros win for win for win.
If you believe in this sort of thing, and as overused a cliche as it is, the Nationals are looking every bit the part of a team of destiny.
They won in the wild-card round when a ball scooted past the Brewers’ right fielder to score the go-ahead run. They vanquished the Dodgers in the NLDS with late tying homers from young stars Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon off Hall of Famer-in-waiting Clayton Kershaw before capping off the shocker with journeyman Howie Kendrick’s grand slam in extras. They swept past the Cardinals like they were a bunch of minor-leaguers in the NLCS, earning the right to rest and wait as the Astros and Yankees slugged it out for six games.
Clearly, the Astros have the better collection of players and talent. No one would argue that. But games aren’t played on rosters or in scorebooks. They’re played between the lines, and through two games, the Nationals are playing better as a team and are the better team.
There’s no sense rattling off all the numbers as evidence of the Astros’ offensive futility this postseason. They’ve survived and advanced this far because of pitching and the long ball, not because of the offensive consistency that’s been their trademark all year. But if they do fail to come back and make this a series, at least getting it back to Houston, it’ll be their bats’ collapse that will, and should, take the biggest blame.
The team held a players-only meeting after Game 2 careened from a 2-2 pitchers’ duel into a 12-3 debacle of a defeat Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park. There’s no doubt in my mind that among the topics was getting back to playing Houston Astros baseball.
If they can do that starting tonight in Game 3, there’s no reason they can’t turn this series around. If not, their season will definitely be over.
And if that happens, I’ll tip my cap to the better team that won this World Series. It’ll be cool to have a WS champion in our nation’s capital for the first time since 1924, and DC’s first pro baseball champ since the dominant Homestead Grays won the Negro National League title in 1948.
This series has been needlessly overshadowed by the stupidity of one member of Houston’s front office. Assistant GM Brandon Taubman inexplicably decided the postgame celebration of Saturday’s ALCS clincher would be a great time to launch into an inexcusable taunting of female reporters in support of the team’s closer, Roberto Osuna, for whom the Astros — again, inexplicably — traded last year despite his having been suspended 75 games for domestic abuse.
The Astros poured kerosene on that blaze by defending Taubman, then had to issue a public apology and finally did the right thing by firing the guy Thursday, about four days too late. The whole situation, profoundly sad from the hideous crime Osuna committed that started it, could’ve been avoided if the Astros had just shopped elsewhere for a closer. With a team trying to win a title, it — and the well-deserved heat the franchise is finally taking — have been an unfortunate distraction.
As for what’s happening on the field: For now, I’m keeping the faith. GO ASTROS!!